Jim and Marie Finn with their daughters Ariane (13) and Chloe (10) and their son Julien (7).
The Finns flew Air China from Beijing to Xining, then took an overnight soft sleeper train from Xining to Lhasa. On their return trip, the family flew Air China from Lhasa to Beijing via Chengdu. Savannah from Mercury Travel in Beijing organized the train and plane tickets, and arranged for a Tibetan guide in Lhasa.
In Lhasa, the Finns stayed at the Sheraton Hotel. The English-speaking staff was friendly and helpful, and their hotel was within walking distance of the old Tibetan part of town. There is no playground or pool at the hotel, but families can enjoy a meal on the outdoor patio.
The Finns are a well-traveled family, but they admit that this was the best trip they’d ever taken. They had a guide named Jam, who had been a monk for five years and was able to explain much about Tibetan culture and Buddhism.
The Finns were deeply moved by the atmosphere at the Johkang Temple, where thousands of pilgrims go to worship. The children were particularly fascinated with the Norbulingka and the residence of the 14th Dalai Lama. They loved the throne room filled with paintings depicting Buddhist Paradise and Hell.
Chloe’s favorite part was the drive to Ganden Monastery, where she visited the monastery’s kitchen and tasted yak butter tea. Meanwhile, Julien’s favorite part was being chased by three camels at the zoo in the Norbulingka.
Getting there was not as delightful an adventure as the Finns had hoped. The long 24-hour haul – which involved mediocre food and leaking toilets – left Marie with a migraine. Fortunately, the family had planned ahead, stocking up on snacks like cereal bars and instant oatmeal.
Most Unexpected Event
At the sacred Potala Palace, an attending monk gave Julien a prayer scarf. The pilgrims believed this to be very special, and proceeded to hug him. He did’t mind – in fact, Julien enjoyed being “little Buddha” for a day.
At Ganden Monastery, Julien and his dad were invited by several young monks to sit with them in the monastery’s kitchen and drink some yak butter tea.
The hotel had connecting rooms, allowing the family to spread out. There were also special discounts on meals for children.
The Finn children enjoyed experiencing a different way of life and got a kick out of all the special attention they received. The pilgrims traveled in families or groups, so the kids were able to interact with Tibetan children of the same age. Everyone was good-natured.
This trip is not recommended for young children, but if your kids are old enough and willing to try new things, then Tibet is a great destination. Make sure you have a knowledgeable guide to answer all your questions – and if you take the train, be sure to bring your favorite snacks.